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Oregon wildfire aftermath gives murky view of COVID-19 case numbers

Multnomah County's health officer says there are several factors making it difficult to get a read on where we're headed in the pandemic.

PORTLAND, Ore — Oregon continues to see a rise in coronavirus cases. Tuesday, the Oregon Health Authority reported 299 new cases and eight deaths.

Those cases are spread out over two dozen Oregon counties. Multnomah County saw the largest number: 52 cases.

However, analyzing a trend in coronavirus case numbers is especially tricky following weeks of wildfire evacuations and hazardous air quality, according to Multnomah County Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Vines.

“We think numbers, in general, are increasing, but we’re kind of waiting for things to settle as the disruptions from the wildfires and evacuations,” Vines said.

Several factors make it difficult to get a good read on where we are headed locally in this pandemic, according to Vines.

A couple of weeks ago the smoky air from wildfires closed some testing sites and labs, the smoke also forced peoples indoors, and thousands were evacuated; which likely had them in close contact with people outside their immediate families.

County health officials are still waiting to re-evaluate metrics for reopening and getting students back in the classroom, according to Vines.

“It remains to be seen with the numbers what exactly happened, but it does remind us, as we go into fall and we think about holidays, we need to keep up the COVID precautions to keep our numbers low, to keep people out of the hospital and to get our economy back on track here as soon as we can,” Vines said.

The impact from the wildfires is a reminder that no matter what tragedy, life event or holiday comes next the pandemic will be there.

“It's a good example of how COVID is going to be with us for the foreseeable future. It's going to always be there,” Vines said. “So, even as people were evacuating and doing the right things to get away from fire and smoke – we knew  that it will likely affect COVID spread; just given the movement of people into indoor spaces and potentially mixing and spreading the virus that way.”

Although many might be feeling the pandemic fatigue, now is not the time to be lenient on coronavirus precautions. That means keeping up social distancing, wearing a mask especially indoors and staying home if you're sick.

Another thing Vines says is important as we enter a new month of the pandemic: get your influenza vaccination.

"Get a flu shot even if you’re practicing perfect distancing ad wearing a face covering and minimizing your social contacts,” Vines said. “Make a point of getting a flu shot this year because it’s just going to help lessen the burden of respiratory illness in communities if we use everything we can to keep as many people well as possible.”

The flu vaccine is recommended for everyone six months and older. You and your household should be vaccinated before the end of October, according to Vines.